Tuesday, March 16, 2021

This is a bill of materials for a METAR sectional map project
You will need a raspberry pi. If you are going to do some experimentation with the pi for fun, I recommend a cana kit with the container, OS pre-loaded, cables, etc. that you need:

If you want to experiment with other pi stuff, I highly recommend the Freenove kit, which comes with all kinds of goodies:

For the project itself, I think a pi zero will work fine, but I would still get the cana kit for the other accessories:

You will need a power supply, or possibly two. The Pi is powered by USB-C, or USB-micro for the pi zero. This device will work with a Pi 4B:

The reason you want the above power supply is that you will also want a string of lights to work with, which has 4" separation between lights. You can get 25, 50, 100, or chain them together. These run on 12 volts, which will help with longer runs of lights.

You will want the code from github:
Note that this requires the ws2811 c library too:
You will also want this 12 volt power supply to tie into both the lights and the USB power converter:

This will allow you to plug and unplug your map once it's complete. You will wire the konnected USB converter and the lights to this output, and ground it all together.
Finally, you will want a sectional map, and some kind of frame for it. You will also need a soldering iron and some 18-gauge wire to extend the distance between airports as needed.

We are also looking at an add-on for the map that we haven't finished the code for yet, so it's preliminary, but if you want to go ahead and order we'll get straightened out before the workshop:

If you'd rather work in Python completely, here's a link to some instructions for where to get that code:
Setting up a Pi headlessly:

Monday, September 10, 2018

Old-school computer gets new school update

This may turn out to be the most on-topic post ever posted on this very infrequently updated blog. Or whatever they're calling them these days. You see, the blog is named restlessobsessive after my obsessiveness with certain hobbies or even occupations, combined with the fact that the particular hobby I'm obsessed with at the moment changes at least once a year. I do go back and revisit old hobbies now, because the learning curve is a little less steep, but still steep enough (partly because I've forgotten a lot of details since the last time I visited that hobby). As it turns out, I like a steep learning curve. I tend to attack a hobby with relish for that first year or so, and quickly pick up skills and measurable accomplishments (I like wallpaper of various sorts), and then I encounter a sort of wall. That wall consists of people who are just as obsessive as me, but not as restless. They will take up, say, sailing, and stick with it for their entire lives. I will never be as good a sailor as they are. And I'm somewhat competitive in my obsessions, because that's how you get wallpaper.

So that's where this story comes in. I used to be pretty obsessed with computers. So much so that I turned it into a profession. I tinkered and hacked, like everyone who is any good at computers, and eventually went on to get a doctorate in theoretical computer science. I also helped found a company, which is doing quite well and serves about 5 million unique users on any given week. I dare say on that score, I didn't stop at the wall. Despite what some pundits without them say, a PhD is a very fine bit of wallpaper that is non-trivial to obtain. Company stock is another fine leaf. Anyway, nonetheless, about 10 years ago, I stopped being such a hardware nut with computers. To some extent the juice became not worth the squeeze. For $600 bucks you could pick up a dual-core 2.6 ghz processor with 6 gigs of ram and 320 gig of hard drive. The HP Pavilion p6000. Maybe you want a terabyte backup drive, but that's about it. I never got much of a monitor for it because I was happy with EVGA. I never so much as cracked the case on it because it came with everything built into the motherboard except possibly wifi, which you can set up through USB anyway. You can do just about any add-on through USB, so it sat on the floor collecting dust in its fans and drives until last week.

My wife is just as much of a hobby collector as I am. She has 1000 jumps from an airplane. She has a pilot's license, as do I. We bonded over how we don't fly anymore when we first met. We even played "Come Fly With Me" as our song at our wedding. She got her ham radio license before I did. She's a programmer and entrepreneur also. She didn't know how to sail when we met, but we went on my dad's boat once and she wondered aloud why we didn't have one. Now we do. Now we race sailboats, but we've kind of reached that 80% level where all the lifers beat us in the races and we smoke the rest of them. Anyway, this is relevant to the story, because I recently renewed my bicycling hobby with a bit of a vengeance.

Ok, now I have to tangent again to talk about the bicycling. Around the time I turned 40, my dad was a big cycling enthusiast, as was my sister and niece. I was starting into running, but I also had a friend who wanted to do triathlons. So I borrowed an old bike from my dad for a while, then picked up a used one that fit me better when I learned what I was doing. This was a mid-level Trek 1200, which was about 10 years old when I bought it. It's now 28 years old and still my main road bike. I've revamped a few things on it, learning about bike maintenance on the way. It sat idle in the garage for the most part since about 2006 when I did a 70.2 ironman. I actually rented a bike for that because it was far away and my bike is crappy anyway, so I figured a rental wouldn't be worse.

Back to the story. So this spring of 2018, I had a friend approach me about a bicycle ride. He had been talking about riding with me all the time for years, because he's a cycling lifer. I knew enough about the subject to be interested enough in his obsessive details about various wheelsets and chainrings and whatnot to listen. So I knew that he had been planning obsessively for a trip to Utah for about a year. His plan was to ride the White Rim Trail, and then some other rides around Moab after that, with lots of hill climbs and whatnot. The problem was, the outfitter he was signed up with only had two other people signed up for that week. They normally require four to make the trip go. He was talking to me about this problem, and how they might cancel the trip, but were giving it a couple more days. I joked that maybe they were just giving him more time to recruit his friends. He said, "do you want to go?" I said, "sure".

Let me back up a little bit here. Just kidding, I just need to explain that the fitness level required for the White Rim Trail in Utah is above average, and that I'd been off the bike for quite some time by now. However, for the last two years I have been obsessed with fitness, so I am in good general shape. Over that time I lost 50 pounds and worked out a lot with Camp Gladiator. So the three weeks left before the trip was plenty of time to buy a mountain bike, get whatever camping gear I needed together, and put in 100 miles a week or more on the bike.

The trip was somewhat uneventful for me. My friend not so much, as he broke his hip, but that's a whole other story. There were two additional people who joined us on the trip who had signed up at the last minute, so there were 6 of us in the end. The two were dairy farmers, but did pretty well at it I guess, because they flew their own twin engine airplane into Moab for the trip. They were also in good shape having just come off a Grand Canyon hike. As for me, I was able to ride the 25+ miles per day on mountain bike trails and pretty much hang up front with the cool kids. In this case, the lifers were the outfitters. They could ride circles around all of us, uphill, with 50 pounds of gear in a backpack. They lived the lifestyle, because they were out on 3-day or more wilderness rides on a regular basis. It was pretty cool. If I were younger and not otherwise occupied...

When I got back from the trip, my wife was somewhat annoyed with me. Partly, I think, because she thought the whole thing was a bad idea, and I went anyway. I think I made a believer out of her as far as when I say I can do something, I can pretty well do it. I don't go around bragging about things without the ability to back it up, and really bragging and jealousy don't enter my vocabulary much. I'm only competitive for my own ends, not because I care much what others think of me. I set my own goals and try to reach those. If I see other people who are better than me, my response is to try to improve to what I now know is possible, not to break their kneecaps like a Harding. So anyway, She did eventually get out on her own bike and figured out that she hadn't been using the gears right which was the main reason she didn't enjoy riding in the first place. And if you haven't been using your gears right, check out this bike blog here.

Anyway, so after I got back, I was riding a good bit more, because I had discovered bike trails and mountain biking in general (the Utah trip was my first time ever on a mountain bike trail). There are some good trails around Dallas and it's a lot of fun. It's like being a kid again. I also got back on the road bike because I enjoy the camaraderie of going out and riding in a big group. It's also a lot safer. When you're trying to rack up miles it's a good way to do it.

So this new obsession led to my wife's annoyance which led to a long discussion. She's not one to just let stuff like that go and just be annoyed, she wants us to find solutions. I'm all about that. In this case, she decided she needed to take up her own hobby that she could do while I'm out riding. I should probably mention that my prior obsession, ham radio, had previously led to me going on a DXpedition the previous year. This was a boys trip where we basically geeked out on ham radio for 10 days in Nicaragua. Naturally I was the CW guy on that trip, because that's an obsession within an obsession in the nerdiest hobby ever known to man. So this was two years in a row with trips where my wife didn't come. I get a lot of vacation and we own a travel agency so together vacations wasn't the problem so much, just the inherent separation and her stuck at home while I'm out having fun thing. It needed a solution.

The solution she finally hit upon was to get back into flying. When she thought of it, her face lit up with a look I know well, usually in the mirror or in MarathonFoto pictures from some event I was in like the Hotter'n'Hell Hundred. I did 100k. Lifers do 100 miles. Anyway, so about a month ago she got her Class III medical up to date and started taking lessons. She took a "Rusty Pilot" seminar in Fort Worth. She joined the AOPA. We're going to the AOPA Fly-in in New Mexico next week. Like I said, we're perfect for each other. She hasn't quite gotten signed off on her BFR yet, but that will be soon, and she'll be back soloing. Or bringing me along as a passenger. Nothing like a lapsed pilot for a passenger. Actually I am trying to get current my own self because I don't want to pipe up with old information or half-remembered maxims while she's flying, because she tends to give my confident pronouncements some weight, deserved or not.

All this activity around flying eventually led her to think that it might be worthwhile to look into a flight simulator for the computer. See, we're back on topic now. Finally. So I looked into it a bit and said yes, Microsoft Flight Simulator is still very good, and they still make yokes and pedals and such that provide force-feedback and can up the realism. If you're going to do it, do it right. She was a bit confused by the options, because no one seemed to sell the actual game, though several stock the yokes and stuff. We held off for a day while I investigated, and I confidently announced that she should "sign up for steam" as if I knew what that was, and "get the steam version of Flight Simulator X" as if I knew how to do that. She figured out the details, such that I still don't know how to do that or what it means, and was met with a big fat pffft.

The software claimed that we need a minimal graphics card of a geforce3/Radeon 8100. Mind you, this is software that hasn't been meaningfully updated in 10 years, and it was calling for graphics cards that are 2000's technology. So I figured if I could find anything that old, I would be good to go. I went to Best Buy because I figured it would be easier to return and exchange near home if the Big Fancy GeForce GTX 1050 ti with the fans and the double-board slot didn't fit in the case and I had to return it and go for the GeForce 710. The performance on the 710 is several orders of magnitude worse so that was a last resort. So anyway, I brought the thing home along with the yoke and pedals, which came with the throttle too which is all enormous by the way, and began what I thought might take until the wee hours.

It did take until the wee hours. What I found online was that the card was not compatible with my computer. This was due to what was being called the Legacy Bios problem. I needed a card that supported the Legacy Bios rather than the new UEFI standard. I still don't know what any of that means, because about 10 years ago, computer hardware got good enough that I stopped paying attention and bought my Pavilion from the store like everybody else. For gaming I generally used XBox and whatnot, and the computer was mostly for taxes. Nonetheless, one of the things I tried was upgrading the bios. You can download a new bios installer from the manufacturers website and flash the BIOS. I did that, but it turned out I already had the latest, and it was rejected anyway. There were lots of hoops and boots I had to go through to get to that stage, and it was nearing midnight by that time. When I initially popped the card in, there were two blank monitors (oh yeah, I had to buy a new monitor because the new card didn't support VGA, just HDMI and DVI). So I had to pop the card back out to get to the bios in the first place. You hold down F10 while it boots and the BIOS screen comes up. You have to let off the key before the screen comes up I think. Anyway, on the second screen was a setting for graphics card. I changed it from whatever it was, to PCI-E type card (there were two similar choices, I picked the fancier one), popped the card back in, and up came the HDMI monitor on the next boot. I almost didn't realise it happened.

I had uninstalled the prior graphics card driver from Windows 10 by this point, as you are supposed to do. I then downloaded the NVidia drivers and began to install them. It crashed. I tried again without the extras and it still crashed. It was nearing 1:00 am by this point. A good, old-school computer hack session. I hadn't been up past 9pm for years. Kids these days don't know how to do this kind of troubleshooting, and just report on the internets that it can't be done. So anyway, I googled how to boot in safe mode for Windows 10, did that, installed the drivers, rebooted in normal mode, and Bob's yer uncle.